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November 11, 2007

Fascinating article on realities of sex offender civil commitment

Today's Virginian-Pilot has this long article discussing the realities of sex offender civil commitment in Virginia.  The piece is a must-read for anyone interested in this field.  Here are snippets:

They are considered the worst of Virginia's sexual predators, a community of 61 men deemed so dangerous that even after completing their prison sentences, they remain locked up.  A towering, razor-lined fence keeps them in a complex called the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation. Although the facility is classified as a mental institution, it has the look of an isolated prison. In theory, the state hopes to rehabilitate these career child abusers and rapists so that they can be trusted back on the streets.  But to date, no one has been freed.

The men are confined indefinitely under Virginia's four-year-old civil commitment program, which allows chronic sexual predators to be institutionalized after serving their prison sentences.  Eighteen other states have similar regiments and the U.S. Supreme Court has declared them constitutional — if it can be proved that the molesters are likely to repeat their crimes, and if they are receiving psychological counseling to learn how to control their deviancies.  There is no convincing evidence that therapy changes chronic molesters, particularly pedophiles.  Across the nation, only about 5 percent of the 2,700 sex offenders civilly committed since 1990 have been released.

By June, Virginia officials are expecting the population at the Petersburg institution to almost double to 113 sex offenders. The high cost of their therapy will require taxpayers to shell out at least $123,000 a year for each sexual predator — about six times the cost of keeping an inmate in prison.  The program is outgrowing its Petersburg home, once a training center for the mentally retarded. The state plans to close the facility early next year and move operations to a $63 million institution being built in Nottoway County near Burkeville solely to house sexual predators. It will hold as many as 300 molesters. Legislators say it could be filled in three years.

Some mental health experts and civil libertarians say the facility is little more than a new form of prison to keep sex offenders locked up for life....  "I'd have to assume the chances are slim and none that anyone will leave the program in Virginia," said state Sen. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, vice chairman of the state crime commission. Since the Virginia program's inception, about 2 percent of sex offenders have been sent to civil commitment after serving their prison time. "These are the worst of the worst," Stolle said.  "From that perspective, I think the risk of releasing them outweighs the concerns about their civil liberties. I don't have a lot of sympathy for them."

Mario Dennis, the facility's chief psychologist .... who specializes in treating sexual deviancies, said offenders have "a much better lifestyle" in civil commitment than in prison.  When not in therapy, residents are allowed to roam the yards and common areas. They are not required to wear uniforms, and they have a library with books and appropriate videos.  They are allowed to stay up later at night than they could in prison and rise later in the morning. "There's more freedom here, and more responsibility," Dennis said....

Although Dennis acknowledged that many of the men may never be released, he said others have made "substantial progress" and one or two may be nearing a point where he might recommend release if their movement was monitored by GPS. "The goal is, have they learned to manage their risk so they can be safely maintained and employed," Dennis said.

November 11, 2007 at 12:05 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Nov 13, 2007 6:44:47 PM


"These are the worst of the worst," Stolle said. "From that perspective, I think the risk of releasing them outweighs the concerns about their civil liberties. I don't have a lot of sympathy for them."

If these are people who've forcibly raped children, as opposed to, e.g. people who've been cited for indecent exposure or sexually 18-yr-olds with 17-yr-old girlfriends, then it's hard to disagree with that sentiment.

Posted by: | Nov 11, 2007 12:08:27 PM

It's better that a few children get raped each year than tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money be spent to keep people who have served out their prison sentences incarcerated in perpetuity (which has to be unconstitutional regardless of what the idiotic SCOTUS says).

It is worth a few raped children to not have this article be true. I don't think that's really the dichotomy, but even if it is, it's not worth this to protect a few kids from being raped.

A raped child is not the worst thing that can happen. In fact, I'd say a government randomly deciding to keep people locked up forever, at its own discretion, and at the heavy cost of the taxpayer, is the greater evil. Sorry to be so blunt, but that's the choice implicitly given by these civil commitment laws, so I'll actually address the choice.

Posted by: bruce | Nov 11, 2007 2:57:11 PM

Bluntness is your forte Bruce. From your website: "Every time a decision is made which results in one less child being born, particularly when not born to a parent who doesn't want it, the world becomes a marginally better place." Seems you think it best when children are not born, even better when they're not wanted. So shall we say you have some bad feelings towards children that leads you to say that allowing children to get raped is better than spending money to keep predators away from them? Oh, and if this was merely an issue of providing outpatient, non-mandated treatment for these offenders, and the government cut that program, might I imagine that you'd be the first one complaining about it? You say "I don't think that's really the dichotomy" but your website is all about looking at the world in black and white terms.

Posted by: | Nov 11, 2007 3:26:21 PM

the article is written in a way to make people condone what they are doing. Given all the information that i've read about the sex offender laws, and the abuse of power from the government I have to doubt the whole report.

They constantly mention child rape to remind people, so they see the terrible miscarriage of justice. They also say these inmates are better than in prison, but in reality they cannot be in prison, because they have finished their time.

Personally, if a person is a serial rapist that cannot control himself, then I think civil commitment is appropriate. However, people make mistakes. I have heard of stories of peope who go to prison for rape and then rebuild their lives and are productive. That's a little hard in the U.S. because we provide only chance at life and if a person makes a mistake we constantly remind them. We make sure they can't get jobs or housing, so that their only option is to reoffend, thus proving the conservatives method of lock them up and throw away the key.

Posted by: EJ | Nov 11, 2007 5:08:22 PM

From your website: "Every time a decision is made which results in one less child being born, particularly when not born to a parent who doesn't want it, the world becomes a marginally better place." Seems you think it best when children are not born, even better when they're not wanted.

Are you saying each and every birth (there are approx. 3 people born per second) marginally improves our world? A vast majority do nothing more than marginally increase total suffering and starvation. I know it's politically incorrect to even imply children are not the greatest thing ever, but they're not.

We have enough people, and it's better a child NOT BE BORN than be born to a family that does not want it or cannot afford to raise it and care for it. I'm sure you disagree though... everyone should squirt out as may children as humanly possible, regardless of the situation, location, or context. You really think it's better to have a child starving in Africa, being eaten alive by tsetse flies, than to not have that child born in the first place? Is that really your position? If so, you are cruel, inhuman, and sadistic. Now, I know governments think this way, because each child born is both a future taxpayer and a future potential member of the military. But the interests of governments and their subjects rarely coincide.

"Oh, and if this was merely an issue of providing outpatient, non-mandated treatment for these offenders, and the government cut that program, might I imagine that you'd be the first one complaining about it?"

No, I don't believe you can treat sexual preference (whether it be for same sex adults, cattle, or children). The government should not be in the business of wasting taxpayer money, whether mandatory of not, to try to correct people's sexual preferences.

EJ: there is never proof that a "serial rapist" can't control himself and has not learned his lesson. How can the government ever prove what someone WILL DO in the future? It's just probabilities, and baseless ones at that. The government just presumes that the convict will continue to be a danger, has not learned a lesson, and they pay some psychologist $150 to write a report making that claim in writing to present to a court so as to justify civil commitment. It's irrebutable. Just like the government can't prove you will rape someone, you can't prove that you won't.

To the extent they're relying on past behavior to justify future actions, that's exactly what Rule of Evidence 404(b) is supposed to prevent. You can't use evidence of past bad acts to prove conformity (i.e. he did it then, so he likely did it this time). If such evidence is forbidden in a trial, how can it possibly be used as the sole basis of keeping someone locked up, without a conviction, for the rest of his life? It's insane. And it's horribly offensive to the notion of due process. Again, it's worth a few kids being raped not to have such a system in place that makes a total mockery of angl-saxon justice.

Posted by: bruce | Nov 12, 2007 12:09:04 AM

News of a horrific crime, reporters telling the details over and over, mugshots of the suspect on the screen, revelation that the suspect is a registered sex offender. Even though such a crime might occur hundreds of miles away, I panic.

That crime could cost my son any remaining chance of a normal, stable childhood. It could cost me the choice to live peacefully with my husband, the right to live free of the terror that someone will show up on my doorstep intent on murder.

Why? Because in response to horrific crimes, society now lashes out at law-abiding citizens who, in the past, broke the law. Punishes them again by broadcasting their daily whereabouts to the world, driving them into joblessness and homelessness, banning them from walking down a city street or taking shelter in cases of emergencies. And the law thoroughly punishes their families. Spouses must either live under the same dangers, restrictions and privacy invasions, or abandon their marriage. Children lose friends, homes, and the right to be free of mockery and assault and fear.

We don't speak out often. Being legally required to provide personal information to those who wish to kill us tends to stifle public discourse. If a death threat is made, we cannot protect ourselves by staying with relatives or in a hotel for a few days. The law requires we keep the potential killer updated as to where we can be found. And that potential killer would have more rights under the law, even if he murdered us, than we do as people trying to remain in compliance with ever-changing laws.

My husband was convicted decades ago of a sex crime against an adult. He served time, he participated in years of treatment during and after release, he spent additional years under supervision. Then a court, and a panel of mental health experts, deemed he was no longer a danger to anyone. Not medium risk, not low risk. No risk. He set out to do what hundreds of thousands of ex-cons do--build a new life--and he succeeded. We married and had a child. We worked hard, contributed to our community, enjoyed life, made plans for the future.

Then society demanded a do-over, and contrived to do so through "regulation." So another court decided there was no punishment attached to retroactive registration of sex offenders, nor in the highly publicized dissemination of their whereabouts. Even though we are no longer subject to criminal supervision, "civil" laws have taken our privacy, our right to live and travel where we choose, and our right to be free of harassment.

Politicians, the media, and the public make it clear to us: We are human garbage. Toxic waste. Unfit to breathe the air. Unworthy of life. Deserving of death at the hands of vigilantes.

Yes, I say "we," even though my husband is the only sex offender in the family. For years, the public, politicians, and certain advocacy groups have gotten away with failing to acknowledge the swath of collateral damage their law-making has inflicted. If a mere third of offenders are married, almost a quarter million spouses are recklessly placed in jeopardy by the laws. If a third live with a parent, almost a quarter million family members are at risk. If a third have a single child, almost a quarter million children are--daily--endangered by public notification and the prevailing, rabidly encouraged public sentiment that any registered offender should be tormented at every opportunity. Our lives are ones of fear.

There is no way to appeal it. There is no escaping it. No matter what we do--no matter how well or how long we abide by the laws--we lose more and more rights and freedoms every day. And that loss is based upon pure hysteria and statistical manipulation. The testimony of mental health experts is ignored by politicians and the mainstream media. True recidivism rates are under-reported, or are not reported at all. Even victim advocacy groups and prosecuting attorneys are disregarded when they speak against these punishments. And discussing the consequences of the laws is, apparently, taboo in the public forum.

Some will say it would be shameful to repeal laws intended to protect children. I tell you the recklessness with which hundreds of thousands of innocent American citizens have been triumphantly stripped of their privacy, family, and safety is shameful indeed. Politicians and advocates tell us that such "civil" abuse heaped upon sex offenders is worthy if it saves a single child. By default, they name the pain and loss and endangerment inflicted on other children worthy as well. Shameful indeed.

I don't ask that you welcome us with open arms. We ask for something far more simple: to be left alone, just as we were all those years in which we did nothing wrong under the law. However, if you demand that every offender be eternally punished for his or her past, then show the moral courage to hold yourself accountable for the present.

When you demand offenders be pushed out of your community, say out loud, "and their children should be hounded out of their home, too."

When you demand longer and broader notifications, state bravely, "and I want their children to be shamed whenever they leave their home, to live in terror of vigilante violence forever."

When you demand offenders be banned from schools, proclaim as well, "and I want their children to be mocked and beaten by their classmates, to never have a friend."

When you demand the government step in to 'protect the children,' say to the offender's child, "But you I will purposefully endanger. Your family I will destroy, and claim its destruction as my victory."

When you demand an offender be again punished for a decades-old crime, at least have the decency to say you're willing to inflict certain damage on thousands of children in exchange for the many-times disproved promise of better security for yours.

Don't like the way that sounds? Tough. Stand up, be honest, and live with it. We do. We live according to the whims of civil madmen every day. For obvious reasons, please do not reveal my identity or e-mail.

Posted by: robin | Nov 12, 2007 2:12:11 AM

Robin: It's horrible, cruel, unfair, and unamerican. The media and politicians have convinced the masses that the choice is either these insane laws (which you describe the reality of quite well) or children being raped.

As I said before, I think that's a false choice. But assuming they are in fact the only two options, one or the other, I'd rather have a few (and it would only be a few) kids raped than violate the due process and dignity of tens of thousands of people (and their families). Keep in mind, half the time we're talking about a 20 year old having sex with a 16 or 17 year old. Not the end of the world, far from it. But even if we're talking about a creepy 50 year old perverted, aids-infested pedophile anally raping to the brink of death a 3 year old toddler, with blood splattered all over the place, and the cries of the child peircing the night like the most horrible sound a human can imagine, it's terrible, but it's still the lesser of the two evils. Sorry. Either you agree with me (as icky as it is), or you support massive due process violations and ruining the lives of tens of thousands of people (sometimes even forcing them to live under a bridge), and the lives of their families... all at massive taxpayer expense.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I want a child to be raped, or that I hope it happens or that I am indifferent to its occurrence. It's horrible when anyone hurts another human being, and real(*) rape is one of the most horrendous crimes a person can do to another human being. But if it is a few kids being raped each year OR massive rights violations, I chose the former.

* I don't consider statutory rape to be real rape when the age of the victim is within 5 years of the age of the "rapist" ... regardless of what the law says. An 18 year old having consensual sex with his 17 year old girlfriend is not rape, no matter what anyone says. Of course, don't do it, it's illegal. But that doesn't make it morally wrong. Anyone regardless of their age should be competent to consent to having sexual intercourse with someone up to five years older than themselves. When the age difference is greater than 5 years, then it should be determined on a case by case basis. This whole "per se rape" thing, regardless of the circumstances... a guy meets a girl in a bar, who looks at least 21 and says she's 21 and has and uses a fake ID, they go home and have sex, and she turns out to be a mature 16, and the guy gets arrested, thrown in prison for 10 years, and labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life is horrible... much worse than the underlying crime is supposed to be.

Posted by: bruce | Nov 12, 2007 4:49:05 AM

Bruce, is there anyone now serving out an involuntary civil commitment because, when he was 18, he had consensual sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend?

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Nov 12, 2007 12:17:27 PM

Bruce, I suspect you are a strawman sockpuppet because it is so easy to find your argument repulsive.

Now right-minded person, or crazy person for that matter, would prefer the rape you so explicitly describe.

Posted by: George | Nov 12, 2007 2:30:19 PM

Marc: Good question, and it depends on what you mean by the word "because" in your sentence. Serving civil commitment due to the fact that he had consensual sex (statutory rape) with a 17 year old when he was 18? Probably not. In fact, I guarantee you the answer is no. However, due to violations of his lifetime sex offender terms and conditions (which are a result of the 18/17 consensual sex), I'm sure the answer is yes. He forgot to report to his probation officer one month, lived too close to a playground or movie theater, was found in a porn shop, left the state for his mother's funeral without permission... boom, civil committment. "Because" of the consensual sex he has been placed in civil commitment likely forever... he simply was a sex offender who could not abide by the rules and "proved to be a danger to society and our precious children...." So, it depends on what "because" means.

George, I'm not the one setting up the strawman argument. It's the politicans who say either we treat sex offenders this way, or a number of our kids will be raped. I've said I find that to be a false set of choices, but if it's true, then I find a few kids being raped each year to be far less of an evil than the alternative (and I'm not going to minimize the severity of rape to support my choice).

I'm not saying that I want the rape, hope it will happen, or that I will delight in the sound of a raped kid screaming. Not at all, and quite the contrary -- it's horrifying. But if that's the choice (again, which I doubt), a few rapes each year is better than 63 million dollars in taxpayers' money being spend to violate the due process and human rights of 300 hundred americans by keeping them locked up perpetually -- and that is in just one state! You'd think Virginia could violate the basic human rights of more than 300 people for that amount of money... so I choose the rape additionally due to the inefficient use of taxpayer money presented by the alternative (i'm half-joking about this last statement, just to be clear).

A few rapes (by few I mean 5-10 or so) is the lesser of the two evils, and it's really unfortunate if most people don't agree, when really pressed on it. Violating the human rights and due process of tens of thousands of americans versus a few kids being raped, you'd really rather have the first choice? Really? I mean, is that seriously your choice? Let's assume we're not talking about YOUR child, otherwise you could not make a rational decision (nobody could).

Posted by: bruce | Nov 12, 2007 3:50:56 PM

Bruce, in a broad sense I agree with you: there is a limit to how many people I am willing to lock up, merely because there is a speculation that one might commit a rape somewhere down the line.

But I'm looking for evidence that this parade of horribles has actually happened — namely, 18/17 consensual sex leads to involuntary lifetime civil commitment after a series of technical parole violations. If you're so sure that this is true, surely you could produce one live example. Just one.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Nov 12, 2007 4:11:47 PM

Bruce, while I agree that even if the government chopped off every criminal's head, misdemeanor or felony, that still would not ensure "this will not happen to another child." Look at the Middle East where they cut off hands for petty theft and "hate our freedoms."

Even so, anyone reading this will forget robin's well crafted missive and remember yours. That is why I still suspect a strawman sockpuppet.

Posted by: George | Nov 12, 2007 7:38:53 PM

Marc: look at the post by robin, above. Read some articles about what's being done to sex offenders in terms of restrictions. Did you read the story out of Florida where they are being kept under a bridge, because no other place in town can legally permit them to reside there (due to being to close to the hundreds of locations associated with children)?

March, I'll try to find an example of a 17/18 consensual sex rape leading towards civil commitment (which is presumably perpetual). I'm quite sure I've heard of several examples. Not sure where to look, other than google, but I'll see what I can find.

Posted by: bruce | Nov 12, 2007 8:06:52 PM

George, I'm not secretly trying to make my point of view look bad. Your accusation shows just how pernicious and irrebutable any argument is that is premised upon protecting children. The opposing viewpoint is automatically against protecting the children, by the very nature of the (usually strawman) argument. It's like when Bush accused John McCain of being PRO breast cancer (and wanting women to die from it) because McCain vetoed a bill full of pork, with a rider to give some money to breast cancer research. Being against something doesn't mean you support its opposite (and the "opposite" is always deceptively defined by the opposition).

I'm just the only one with the balls to come right out and say fine, if that's the choice then I would rather a few kids be harmed (and minimizing the essence of that harm would be incredibly disingenuous). I have the same position on every "we must pass this law to to protect the children" position I can think of.

Everyone should come out and say it's better that a few kids get raped than it is to violate the human rights and due process of tens of thousands of americans at huge taxpayer expense. "Better" means the lesser of two evils, not a preference one would enjoy.

Posted by: bruce | Nov 12, 2007 8:15:07 PM

I just noted that in NC, that they have enacted a new program that will email everyone that has a sex-offender moving into their area. I am a registered sex-offender that planned to move back to NC. I work for a Non-Profit that addresses the issues of ex-cons returning to "Polite Society". Our Governor is retiring and election contests are already running. This is very disheartening. I merely want a shot at leading an offense free productive life. I initially pled guilty and took my lumps. I had them coming. But, after serving my time, I'm still doing time.

My gift to the readers is my Wayward4now Maxim:
"Power and Authority contains an equal and attendant amount of Responsibility. Any difference between the two is the degree of dysfunction."

I misused my personal Power and Authority with my Ex-Fiance's teenage daughter. So, I figure I'm an expert on that topic. What I see is that while Society exerts it's Power and Authority on us, as now Law Abiding Registered Sex Offenders, there is no Responsibility to meet our needs, just being left to sink or swim. Ergo, the degree of dysfunction is very great. I would call it Intellectual and Emotional rape. We're scarcely down from the trees, as I see it. Thanks for providing this forum. Ric

Posted by: Rickey Moore | Mar 29, 2008 3:10:39 AM

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